There Are No Intermediate Stages: An Organizational View on Development

In Matteo Mossio (ed.), Organization in Biology. Springer. pp. 241-262 (2023)
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Theoretical accounts of development exhibit several internal tensions and face multiple challenges. They span from the problem of the identification of the temporal boundaries of development (beginning and end) to the characterization of the distinctive type of change involved compared to other biological processes. They include questions such as the role to ascribe to the environment or what types of biological systems can undergo development and whether they should include colonies or even ecosystems. In this chapter we discuss these conceptual issues, and we argue that adopting an organizational approach may help solve or clarify them. While development is usually identified with the achievement of an adult form with the capability to reproduce and therefore maintain a lineage, adopting the organizational approach may provide a different strategy, which focuses also on the maintenance of the current organization of the organism. By doing so an organizational approach favors a switch in perspective which consists in analyzing how organisms maintain their viability at each moment of development rather than considering them as going through intermediate stages of a process directed toward a specific goal state. This developmental dimension of biological organization has yet to be given a general and detailed analysis within the organizational theoretical perspective, apart from some preliminary attempts. How a biological organization is maintained through a series of radical organizational changes and what these changes are issues that still require clarification. In this chapter we offer the beginnings of such an analysis of developmental transitions, understood as changes in functionality brought forth by regulatory mechanisms in the context of the continued maintenance of organizational viability at every step.

Author Profiles

Leonardo Bich
University of the Basque Country
Derek Skillings
University of North Carolina, Greensboro


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